The main purpose of screenwriting software is to format a script so you can concentrate on writing. The two most popular screenwriting programs are Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter, which run on both Windows and the Macintosh. One lesser known (and much less expensive) option is Fade In, available for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux.
Visit the web sites of these programs and you’ll find plenty of people who love them and rave about their features. Having used all these programs at one time, I’ve found features in all that I like and dislike, so it’s best to try a demo of each of them and see which one you like the best.
Just don’t deceive yourself into thinking that you can succeed as a screenwriter if you only had the right software. A screenwriting program is only as good as the person typing in the story. A good screenwriter with a typewriter can beat a lousy screenwriter using a computer every time. Once you learn how to use one program, you’ll find it easy to adapt to another one.
Traditionally, screenplays use the Courier font. Unfortunately, the Courier font doesn’t always look very good on computer screens. As an alternative, try one of these two alternative Courier fonts specifically designed to be much easier to read: Courier Screenplay and Courier Prime.
If you’re going to write screenplays, you should spend much of your time reading existing screenplays. Not only can you learn the general conventions for formatting a screenplay, but you can also see how screenplays often differ from the filmed version. Sometimes screenplays contains too much irrelevant information and sometimes the movie actually improves upon the screenplay through ad libbing, rearranging of scenes, or editing parts of a script altogether. Visit these sites and start reading the scripts of your favorite movies today: Internet Movie Script Database, Drew’s Script-O-Rama, and Simply Scripts.
There are plenty of screenwriting books out there and you’ll always find something useful from each of them. However, if you’re just getting started in screenwriting, here are my recommendations for books you should read first: “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder is one of the few screenwriting books written by someone who has actually sold several scripts and seen them turned into a movie. (Okay, so “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!” may not qualify as a great movie, but at least he sold a script and got to see it turned into a bad Sylvester Stallone comedy.) This book is easy to read and can help you define your movie before you even think of writing a single word. You’ll learn about taglines and titles and why a great concept needs both before you spend any time writing your story. His general screenwriting principles are worth the price of the book alone.
“Story” by Robert McKee is about telling a good story whether you want to write a screenplay, a novel, or just a short story. A lot more academic than “Save the Cat,” but loaded with plenty of useful and interesting tips that can only help you in the long run. This is the type of book that you’ll likely reference multiple times and still learn something new each time you read it again.
“The Screenwriter’s Bible” by David Trottier provides an excellent explanation on how to use the specific format of a script. If you’ve ever wondered what’s the difference between a voice over and off-screen, or how to identify the inside of a building vs. the outside, this book will teach you the nuances of script formatting and a whole lot more.
“Screenplay” by Syd Field is considered the classic screenwriting book. If you’re just getting started, this book will introduce you to the importance of structuring your story long before you start writing. Any of Syd Field’s other books are must-have books for reading and reference as well.
“Writing for Emotional Impact” by Karl Iglesias emphasizes the importance of telling an emotional story beyond the visual action of a plot. The greater the emotional change in your hero, the stronger the audience will bond and enjoy your story. The emotional impact of a story is often what’s missing in many screenplays that rely too much on mindless action and special effects rather than telling an emotional story that has meaning for the characters and the audience alike.
“Story Engineering” by Larry Brooks focuses on creating the underlying structure of stories, what makes them work, and how stories fail when they omit common story structure elements. Every story follows certain conventions and if you omit them, your story will likely feel weaker and less appealing as a result. By structuring your story properly in the first place, you can save yourself hours of wasted time and create a compelling story quickly and easily.